Wed, 09 Mar 2005


Oil dispute a hiccup in relations: KL

Jasbant Singh, Associated Press/Kuala Lumpur

The tense standoff between Malaysia and Indonesia over a disputed offshore oil field is merely a hiccup in relations that's being blown out of proportion by the Indonesian media, Malaysia's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar was scheduled to depart for Jakarta on Wednesday for three days of talks with Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda on the overlapping claims, which prompted both sides to deploy warships in recent days and accuse the other side of trespassing.

"The media in Indonesia have initiated a tremendous raising of feelings," Syed Hamid told reporters. "I think this is not beneficial. We should resolve the issue through negotiations and talks. We should not make the situation worse."

He did not give examples of news reports that he considered overblown.

The dispute over the oil field in the Sulawesi Sea off Borneo Island's eastern coast further sours relations that have been made tense recently over Malaysia's expulsion of hundreds of thousands of illegal Indonesian workers.

The long-standing dispute re-emerged in February when Malaysia's national oil company, Petronas, awarded production- sharing contracts to two of Shell's Malaysian units and to Petronas Carigali Sdn. Bhd. for two deep-water blocks.

Indonesia said the oil blocks are within its borders. The blocks are near Sipadan and Ligitan islands, disputed for years between Malaysia and Indonesia.

The International Court of Justice gave Malaysia sovereignty over the islands in 2002. But Indonesia claims Malaysia's water territory extends only 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the islands.

On Monday, Malaysians Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sought to defuse tensions by talking to each other by phone for 10 minutes. They agreed that their foreign ministers would resolve the matter through negotiations.

"We will protect our interests and sovereignty but that does not mean we want to be confrontational," Syed Hamid said, adding that the spat was "short term, situational."

Syed Hamid said he has some proposals on how to resolve the conflict but didn't elaborate.

He criticized a demonstration by about 100 Indonesians on Monday outside the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta in which the protesters chanted "crush Malaysia."

"Beefing up all these emotions is not good. I do not want to add fire to what already looks or has a semblance of anger that is being whipped up in Indonesia. In Malaysia we should stay calm," he said.